Author Archives: Jack Meredith

Derailing progress – the pitfalls of nationalist rhetoric for Britain’s railways.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has been campaigning for the renationalisation of Britain’s railways, citing how different services are owned or part-owned by the Dutch, German, Italian and Hong Kong governments and asking why the British government doesn’t own these. It concludes with the TUC calling for the British government to renationalise the railway services.

I take umbrage with the language used by the TUC. Framing this as “foreigners shouldn’t own our stuff” plays into the hands of nationalists, giving power to those who want to cut Britain off from the world and transform us into a regressive hellhole. With historical evidence showing us that fascists are all too happy to court working people and drive a wedge between “us and them”, weaponising these arguments opens for xenophobia and indifference to become more significant than they already are among the trade union movement.

There is no opposition from me to nationalisation, of course, provided the argument for it is sound and no alternatives pose greater returns for the British people. Social democratic scholar and former Labour MP Tony Crosland wrote in his book “The Future Of Socialism” of the left’s deifying of nationalisation. He argued how regulation might be the superior alternative, as the privately-owned organisation always has to work to prove itself to maintain the contract, while the state-owned organisation has more room for becoming apathetic regarding the quality of service as it has no competitors.

However, the organisations running our railways aren’t technically private; they’re state-owned organisations that foreign governments own. But this is the crucial point: they operate in the UK. We can regulate and hold them to a high standard. And if they can’t meet these standards, then we consider nationalisation. The case must be evidence-based and common sense rather than “we don’t want foreigners taking our industries”.

My point is all well and good, but if you have a corrupt government, then it doesn’t matter what the ownership model of the railways is; the service will never be as good as it can be.

But that isn’t the case for Britain, right?

Oh, bugger.

Posted in Op-eds | 22 Comments

UK Trade Unions rally in solidarity: resounding support for Ukraine at TUC 2023

This past week at the 2023 UK TUC Congress, trade unions stood in solidarity with Ukraine in the face of the fascist russian invasion, passing a motion from the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.

The motion, moved by GMB, seconded by ASLEF and supported by the NUM, supports the immediate withdrawal of russian* forces from all Ukrainian territories occupied since 2014; Ukrainian unions’ calls for financial and practical aid from the UK to Ukraine; a peaceful end to the conflict that secures the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the support and self-determination of the Ukrainian people; the full restoration of labour rights in Ukraine and a socially-just reconstruction and redevelopment programme that embeds collective bargaining and rejects deregulation and privatisation; TUC work, and facilitation of affiliates’ engagement, with the main Ukrainian trade union centres (FPU/KVPU), and acknowledges the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign.

Amidst the support for Ukraine, however, there was a minor pushback from the RMT, NEU, UCU and FBU. None supported the motion, with RMT, NEU and UCU choosing to abstain and FBU voting against, adding that they “do not think the escalation of war is in the interests of the russian or Ukrainian working class”. This is despite russia having carried out annexations, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine since 2014.

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Shattered Dreams – the human cost of Brexit

“£350m a week more for the NHS”.

That was the tagline used by the Leave Campaign to peddle Brexit. It was plastered over the official Brexit bus, promoted by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Major news outlets, including the BBC, debunked this, which revealed the UK was sending closer to £161m a week.

This falsehood was not the only lie perpetuated by the Leave Campaign.

They claimed working people would save money by not having to pay tax contributions – a report from the Resolution Foundation and LSE has since found that Brexit has exacerbated the cost-of-living crisis, with working people predicted to lose as much as £470 a year by 2030.

They claimed Britain would be free to reach out across the world and make trade deals that would make the EU pale in comparison – the Office for Budget Responsibility found that Brexit had a “significant adverse impact” on British trade, reducing by 15% compared to if the UK had stayed in the EU.

They claimed Britain’s fishing industries would thrive, promising renewed power related to regulation, access and quotas, with over 90% of fishermen opting to vote in favour of Brexit based on these claims – a report from the University of York, New Economics Foundation, University of Lincoln and marine consultancy service ABPmer has found that these “new powers” are at best below modest, and at worst non-existent. The report also includes findings from the UK Government’s Sea Fisheries Statistics 2020 report, highlighting that the fishing industry’s GDP fell by 29% between 2019 and 2020.

To cover everything said by the Leave Campaign or by the successive Tory governments defending Brexit would make this the next “War and Peace.” More importantly, what they have not said needs to be covered.

Leading Brexiteers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson claim we have “reclaimed our sovereignty;” all at the cost of opportunity for future generations, European comradeship with our neighbours, the ability to decide policies on a continental scale, and our standing as a world leader? Former Home Secretary Priti Patel celebrated the ending of “Freedom of Movement,” which meant EU citizens would require a visa to enter the UK and vice versa. Who is this a win for? Certainly not for working people, students, or anyone looking to enrich their lives through experiencing other cultures.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 27 Comments

Unity or compromise – the dilemma of tactical voting

Labour leader Keir Starmer confirmed in an interview with Nicky Campbell that he believes a woman is an “adult female”, a commonly used transphobic dogwhistle which undermines the legitimate identity of trans women.

This statement follows a long-standing public back-and-forth between the Westminster Labour Party and the Scottish Labour Party on whether to support self-ID, allowing trans people to identify as their rightful gender rather than the gender forced upon them at birth.

How far the Labour Party have fallen; once a party that championed individual liberty, now echoing right-wing populist nonsense, fearful they’ll lose their ever-growing lead over a failing Conservative government.

I imagine the late, great Roy Jenkins rolling in his grave. The man that decriminalised homosexuality, legalised abortion, liberalised divorce and theatre censorship laws, and played a significant role in the abolition of capital punishment would be an outsider in the same party that gave him his start in politics.

What is the justification for this decision from Labour? Human rights are supposed to be at the heart of their politics. This stance is a betrayal of liberal democracy and progressivism. While I agree hyper-progressivism can lead to more harm than good, acknowledging and upholding a people’s rights is basic decency.

Labour’s abject failure to do the right thing by trans people makes the argument for “tactical voting” all the more disagreeable.

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A leftist divorce

On February 26th, 2023, Labour MP John McDonnell addressed rumours that there was a split within the left after a difference of opinion between himself and former Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn on whether Ukraine should be armed to fight back against the russian invasion.

McDonnell denied this, claiming “an honest difference of opinion”. And what a difference; either provide firepower to a population facing a fascist invasion or choose neutrality and encourage the invaded country to accept annexation, deportation and genocide.

A breeding ground for division in the left is foreign policy. Most notably since the formation of the Stop the War Coalition (STWC) in 2001, individuals on the far-left have used the platform to voice their disagreement with what they view as the greatest evil on this earth; “Western (American) imperialism”.

There is, however, a problem; you cannot reach a peaceful settlement with an oppressor that refuses to recognise the basic human rights of the oppressed, something STWC ignores. This was the case in 2015, when Tariq Ali called for Western forces to “stand side-by-side with Assad and the russians”, despite Assad having used chemical weapons on his own people and russia by that point having carried out crimes against humanity in Chechnya, invaded Georgia and Moldova, and annexed Crimea.

There have always been, however, those on the left that are willing to put ideology to one side to fight the common enemy: totalitarianism. Whether the International Brigade that supported the Popular Front against Franco (before Stalin decided to torture and kill those that dared to believe in anything other than Stalinism) or social democrats across Europe working with neoconservatives and liberals in supporting NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, there have been those on the left that support fighting against tyranny.

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We must protect Britain’s liberal democracy from the Conservatives

The Conservative Government is on an illiberal rampage, bringing in multiple laws which threaten our civil liberties

From suppressing voter turnout by requiring voters to show ID at polling stations, to criminalising the right to protest peacefully, to bringing the once independent electoral commission under government control, the UK – to borrow a phrase from SNP MP Mhairi Black – is “sleepwalking into fascism”.

The measures to tackle “serious disruption” in the Public Order Bill provide a blatant example. Not satisfied with tearing apart our democratic right to protest, the Home Secretary wants to impose banning orders on protesters, including electronic monitoring tags, travel restrictions, restricted internet access and curfews.

So this all begs the question; what can we do? What can we do to tackle these measures, and protect our basic democratic rights?

Luckily, we still have time before the Public Order Bill is set to become law, so the opportunity to protest peacefully is available to us. For those unable to attend physical protests, a plethora of options is available – contacting MPs, writing articles, getting involved with political parties and groups that fight to protect our rights.

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Lies, condescension, repeat – the new mantra of the Conservative Party

In 2016, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove claimed that Brexit would allow us to cut VAT on energy bills.

On Wednesday 18th May, the Tories voted against the Liberal Democrat motion to cut VAT on energy bills, highlighting yet again, the lies that Brexit was built upon. The claim by Johnson and Gove that Brexit would allow us to cut VAT on energy bills implies that being an EU member didn’t allow us to do so previously; despite Belgium cutting VAT on electricity bills while being a member of the EU. Another Brexit lie propagated at the time of the referendum was the “removal of red tape”, later proven to be false by the rising administration costs facing British businesses.

This has highlighted how out of touch the Tories are with the British people.

Despite pensioners feeling abandoned by the government, Sir Ed Davey making clear that tax hikes are the last thing Londoners need and Sir Keir Starmer stating that Johnson is “choosing to let people struggle”, the advice from Home Office minister Rachel Maclean for citizens dealing with the cost of living crisis is… get a better job.

Oh…

When turning the attention to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, her advice is… to get a “high-paid job”.

Oh…

With so many having to choose between heating and eating, having to skip meals and some even having to leave their heating off entirely, the advice from the government is simply to “get a better job”. This echoes the now infamous, heartless speech from former Conservative Employment Minister Norman Tebbit, who told the Conservative Party 1981 Conference that when his father was faced with unemployment in the 30s, “he got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking till he found it”.

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Queen’s Speech: Conversion therapy “ban” does not go far enough

This Morning, Charles, Prince of Wales delivered the Queen’s Speech.

Among the many measures to be introduced by the Conservative government is a bill  to ban conversion therapy, referring to the immoral pseudoscientific practice of trying to change a person’s sexuality from homosexuality or bisexuality to heterosexuality, or trying to change a person’s gender identity from transgender or non-binary to cisgender.

There is one main issue with this pledge, however; the government has already failed to ban gender conversion therapy, and fully ban gay and bisexual conversion therapy.

The Conservatives have faced controversy on this issue previously, reneging on their promise to ban LGBT+ conversion therapy. Resulting in pushback across the political spectrum, including members of their party, the government u-turned and promised to ban gay conversion therapy – making a point of NOT banning gender conversion therapy.

Despite further backlash to include trans and non-binary people within their legislated ban, once again from members of their party – including their LGBT+ and One Nation Conservative wings – this government has decided to continue their attack upon the trans and non-binary communities by refusing to do so, with Justice Secretary Dominic Raab defending the decision: “we should be able to discuss these sensitive issues with mutual tolerance”.

The issue with Raab’s statement is that “mutual tolerance” is missing from the government’s legislation. There is nothing mutual or tolerant about conversion therapy. It is the outright denial of identity as if a trans person or non-binary person is confused and must be forcibly changed to conform with society, rather than allowing them to live their lives as individuals.

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Boris Johnson – you’re fired

Boris Johnson broke the law.

He partied while repeatedly telling us the importance of “staying home, protecting the NHS and saving lives”. I have no issues with the laws of the time, as they were necessary to protect the immuno-compromised. What I have an issue with, however, is how we were lied to by our Prime Minister.

He had the gall to stand in parliament and deliver an “unreserved apology”, encouraging us to let the government “get on with the job”. Correct me if I’m wrong, the person giving the apology doesn’t decide when to move on, but rather the recipient of the apology does. I’m sure I speak for the majority when I say, we are not ready to move on.

Our nation’s public office holders are expected to meet the 7 standards of the Nolan Principles:

  • Selflessness
  • Integrity
  • Objectivity
  • Honesty
  • Leadership
  • Openness
  • Accountability

I honestly cannot give an example of how Boris Johnson has met a single standard.

He is the first sitting Prime Minister to break the law. He has knowingly misled parliament regarding his attendance of the aforementioned Downing Street parties. He frequently uses the Russian Invasion of Ukraine to deflect taking responsibility for his unlawful actions. When the country needed strong leadership, he fled into hiding. He was happy for civil servants to take the fall for his unlawful actions. His ties to the Kremlin, whether it be through his friendship with Baron Lebedev of Siberia or his attendance at Lebedev’s party in Italy, make him a security threat.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 13 Comments

The importance of acknowledging mental health

In November 2020, I had a breakdown.

I was a postgraduate student when the news broke that Covid-19 was worse than we thought, resulting in all classes going online. We all thought it would last a few weeks, have a few awkward Zoom interactions, then it would all be over and remembered as a strange but interesting time. Fast forward 2 years, and it’s only now the class of 2020 is finally having its graduation ceremony. Exams had finished come June 2020, which meant from July to September, all postgraduate students were now focusing on dissertations. I was looking forward to it, as I had aspirations to go further with my education and pursue a PhD, with the master’s dissertation being my opportunity to build the foundations of my future thesis.

In our first meeting, my supervisor informed me that I had spent too long researching. Stress increased, along with anxiety. As time went on, my chest was feeling heavier, I was having headaches and I was snapping at my family and friends whenever they asked about the dissertation. I was feeling terrible but told myself it was fine, “all part of uni”. I eventually wrote up my research, sent it off and awaited my next meeting.

“Is this just your plan?”. I was so embarrassed, I wish I said: “No, this is just over a month’s work that I worked hard on, and I’d appreciate it if you recognised that”. But instead, I nodded my head and agreed that my work wasn’t good enough. I let slip my mental health had been getting bad; “It’s natural to feel like that with the dissertation, get your head down and do your best”. The meeting ended, and I was feeling more lost than ever. I had under a month to restructure my dissertation, write it up, analyse, send it off and pray I get a pass. I’d started comfort-eating a lot, I wasn’t sleeping and I was crying most days – somehow still convincing myself this was all fine.

What followed was more meetings and more bad news, which all culminated in an extension on my dissertation from the university. I remember describing how I was feeling to my mum at this point: “There are two sides fighting in my head, and both are telling me I’m doing terrible”. She was rightly concerned, as was the rest of my family; just not me, who was still convinced I could power through. In the last meeting, I had with my supervisor, I received the worst possible feedback; “you’ll most likely fail”. Just typing that out makes me stop and relive the experience of crying on camera, while my supervisor tried desperately to glean something positive from my work.

And then, it happened. I had my breakdown.

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We must protect Channel Four

On 2nd November 1982, at 4:40 pm, Scottish television presenter Paul Coia made an announcement that would change British television forever; “Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be able to say to you: Welcome to Channel Four”.

While the plans for a fourth independent television channel were originally devised in 1977, under the Callaghan Administration, it wouldn’t be until 1982 under Margaret Thatcher that these plans were put into motion, bringing us Channel Four and the Welsh equivalent, S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru/Channel Four Wales). Since its inception, we’ve seen channels branch off from Channel Four, including but not limited to 4Music, E4, More4, Film4, and a streaming platform in the form of All4. As of late, there’s been a lot of talk from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport regarding selling Channel Four, justifying it with the claim that doing so would make it “more competitive”, in comparison to competitors such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. This is despite the fact that Channel Four is, first and foremost, a broadcaster and not a streaming platform.

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LGBT+ Allies need to step up

On March 31 2022, Boris Johnson announced he was U-turning on the government’s pledge to ban conversion “therapy”; a form of abuse that seeks to undermine someone’s gender and/or sexual identity, and gaslight them into believing how they view themselves is wrong and must be “corrected”.

Due to backlash from politicians across the House; including a number of Tory MPs, and LGBT+ pressure groups Johnson acquiesced – to a point. He has promised to uphold the ban on gay and bisexual conversion therapy but has failed to do the same regarding trans conversion therapy. What has been made very clear is that the LGBT+ community is viewed as nothing more than a vehicle to gain votes for Boris Johnson. The way he is willing to make such rash, disgusting decisions that compromise the rights and safety of individuals serve to highlight that now, more than ever, LGBT+ allies need to rally around the community and bolster our support.

We cannot expect trans people to shoulder the burden of standing against societal, and now state-sanctioned oppression alone. If we want to see real change, we must create platforms that amplify trans voices. We need to contact MPs, MSPs, MSs, MLAs, Councillors, Mayors, anyone and everyone that is integral to our political system and encourage them to speak up against such prejudice. We must listen, not to respond, but to understand and learn from trans people, the negative experiences they face and what we can do to mitigate them. It is our moral responsibility to defend and uphold the individual freedoms of all people – a responsibility that our government has abandoned.

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Spring Statement 2022: perspective of an unpaid carer

Yesterday, 23rd March 2022, Rishi Sunak delivered his Spring Statement 2022. It included a 5p cut in fuel duty and a rise in the National Insurance threshold by £3,000. But what caught my eye, on a personal note, was the lack of support for unpaid carers.

I have been looking after my grandfather now for nearly 2 years, in that time receiving £270 a month for my work. Now, I don’t begrudge looking after my grandfather as I want to keep him alive and well for as long as possible; my parents, grandparents and I have always lived in the same house together since I was born, so it’s always felt like having a second set of parents for me.

But something that I can’t ignore is the way this government has consistently ignored unpaid carers. Sunak has so far delivered 3 budgets as Chancellor, with no help or support given to us. The gap between the government’s perception of reality, and reality itself, is widening week-on-week. Amid a cost of living crisis, they think £270 a month is enough to cover rising bills – that’s let not forget, have increased due to their own lack of economic intervention – and then go as far as to expect us to be grateful?

Caring for my grandfather is a privilege, as I know I’m playing an important role in maintaining his health and well-being. But caring comes at a cost; adding to my already fragile mental health through 24/7 worrying, sacrificing 2 years of my life to pick up where this government has failed. And on that very point, this government assumes we only care for loved ones 5 hours a day, as we’re paid for 35 hours a week.

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We must adopt a Jenkinsite approach to support trans people

Trans rights are human rights, trans men are men, trans women are women and nothing will ever change this.

It is becoming clear, however, that a minority of our citizens and even representatives in our parliament, Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists – or “TERFs” – do not feel the same way, choosing to see trans people as threats, and choose to attack and undermine them simply for existing, which I cannot help but regard as foolish and wrong. Trans women are women and trans men are men; how can they be threats when all they’re doing is living their lives, no different from you and me?

TERFs refuse to acknowledge that trans people are who they say they are, and in doing so undermine the feminist movement – the cause they claim to defend – but in reality are adding to the oppression and discrimination faced under the patriarchy. It is a reminder of how far we’ve strayed from the “civilised society” – tolerance, openness, inclusivity, the strengthening of individual rights and the abolishment of illiberal laws that prohibit people from living their lives to the fullest extent – the idea that liberal icon Roy Jenkins championed as Home Secretary under then-Labour Party leader Harold Wilson. If it weren’t for him, Britain would not have decriminalised homosexuality, removed theatre censorship, legalised abortions, banned racial discrimination in work, to name but a few of Jenkins’ accomplishments.

But more importantly than what he achieved, is the ideology he brought to the role of Home Secretary: social libertarianism. While many will read that, and think of the likes of Friedrich Hayek, free markets were not the aim of Jenkins’ reforms. But instead, so long as a person brings no harm to themselves or others and follows the rule of law, then who are we to say their identity is invalid? TERFs disagree with this sentiment, actively limiting women’s rights and supporting the strengthening of the patriarchy through harsher policing and state intervention in the lives of individuals.

Posted in Op-eds | 32 Comments
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